Leadership: Are you Strong Enough?

I was reading a blog this morning on making mistakes, written by the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell (So You Screwed Up …). The whole post was great as usual, but one point stuck out to me very clearly. Not only did it make perfect sense, but it is also a point within my own leadership that I struggle with.

By the way, if you don’t follow Leadership Freak, I highly recommend you do so. He is a great read and a top blogger. He is looked up to by many, including myself. (Leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

As I mentioned, I was reading his blog and his first reason for making a mistake slapped me like a cold fish: 1.) [Trying to] please others while ignoring your gut.

Ouch! For a self-professed people pleaser, this is a very pointed bullet item and it was pointed right at me. It is no mystery why he has that item at the top of his list. Of course, it causes my wheels to turn faster trying to find out why I had such an issue with the statement. I can tell you I didn’t have to think very long, I already knew the answer.

People pleasers do not make good leaders!

There, I said it! Now, let me explain what I mean. Mr. Rockwell’s first point is right on the money. As leaders, we have responsibilities to do what is right, not only for our companies but for our teams as well as ourselves. Our educated gut feelings can provide us with amazing discoveries and decisions. Ignoring that “gut feeling” can mean we miss out on a good decision that can keep a project on track or even turn it around.

So, can you be a people pleaser and an effective leader? Yes, but it will probably take some work. You need to analyze each decision to make sure it is being made for the right reason. Keep in mind, you don’t have to make a decision that goes against your people pleasing tendencies with a tone of harshness. You can, and should, communicate that decision with a servant leader’s heart and be sensitive to those that are affected by the decision.

Are you a “people pleaser”? How do you get past that to make better decisions?

Do you agree or disagree with me?

Find Your Purpose Today

Do you have something you’re working for?

I was walking through my office the other day after a hard meeting with a team member in which we were not seeing eye-to-eye. The end of the meeting left me thinking critically about what I can do to make that working relationship better. I was racking my brain for days about how to make it work. The end result of all of that brain racking was that I had a renewed sense of purpose. That new-found purpose actually had me feeling better about my current state of mind. I started walking through the hallways of my office feeling renewed, mentally rejuvenated, seeking answers, paying attention to others, and generally (oddly enough) feeling pretty good about myself. Had I found the answer to my question? Not at that time.

That isn’t what this is about. I’m sorry; I don’t have all the answers to dealing with employees that don’t see the world through our rose colored glasses. I sat down at my desk, realizing what had just happened. I started really thinking about what it was that was making me tick and what makes me tick day in and day out. What motivates me? What is it that drives me day in and day out?

Walking with purpose

All day, I found myself walking through the halls a little taller, my head a little higher, and my pace a little quicker. I wasn’t “puffing my chest” at the employee that disagreed with me, nor was I trying to exude superiority. This type of “roostering” has no place coming from a leader. I just…felt better. I had a mission, a goal, a purpose. That new life had me pushing hard all day long to be more productive, to find answers, and to do the absolute best I could do. It felt incredible, despite the hard conversation that sparked the whole thing.

What is it that makes you tick? Do you have something on your to-do list each day that can give you a sense of purpose?

A challenge

We need to find a reason to push hard each day. I challenge you not just to find something to give you purpose every day, but actually, schedule something. Put something on your to-do list that will cause you to think a little harder. Find something new that you can learn. Think of a problem you need to solve.

What are your thoughts on this post? Do you already have a way to give yourself purpose every day? I’d love to read your comments.

Do You Need a “Slapper”?

Sometimes, it is good to revisit a post and try to add to it if possible. Since writing a post about “telephonic” time wasters, I have found that I have slipped back into wasting time not only on my phone (which is NOT actually an Apple product, by the way) but on other things as well.

I was recently inspired by a guy that hired a “slapper” to keep him motivated and focused. What a concept! I wouldn’t actually do this, but I fully understand why someone would want to. Think of it, you have someone sitting next to you during the day as a paid employee, whose sole purpose in life is to keep you on track and focused on what really matters.

Here is the article from Yahoo: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/guy-hired-someone-slap-him-015800416.html

How much time do you spend on something other than work related items? Do you find yourself testing the company proxy servers and filters for something you can do to pass some time? Reading about college football is a nemesis for me; maybe I need a “slapper” for that?!?!?

People never get ahead by spending their days on something other than work related items. Sure, we might need a mental break every now and then, but that time should be used to work out or take a walk. Not only do you get in better shape, but it has also been shown that physical activity helps the brain work even more efficiently.

Put yourself on a “junk site” diet! Get off that news or sports site and get back to work! That guy noticed a 98% increase in his productivity!

What ways to you use to keep focused? Do you have a “slapper”? Post a comment and tell us of your unique ways to keep focused.

Change Your Directions!

What is Your Communication Style? I don’t mean do you talk softly, loudly, often or little. I’m thinking about how effectively you communicate. Is your style good enough? I was talking to a colleague the other day about team communication and realized that we really aren’t very good at it. Sure, there are communication plans for various levels of stakeholders in a project, but how do you communicate directly with the project team? Do you give direction the same way with everyone? Do you find it frustrating when your directions aren’t followed the way you’d like? Do you have team members that are consistently missing the mark?

Sure, the team member might have underlying issues that are effecting their performance and could follow directions better with a little extra effort, but maybe it’s you. There might be an opportunity for improvement on your part which can assist them in better performance.

Think of it like this, we all learn in different ways. Some people can learn by simply hearing (audible), some by reading (visual), and yet others learn by seeing or even being coached with hands-on activities (kinisthetic). More often than not, we hear of these learning styles with children, but do we grow out of this as we get older? I would say, probably not. Sure, as adults, we learn how to cope with changes in learning environments, but is that really efficient at all to simply know your weaknesses?

As a project leader (or any type of leader for that matter) how well do you actually  know your project team? While it is your teams job individually to listen intently and understand the directions they are given, it is YOUR job as a leader to ensure the team has the tools they need to succeed.

I recommend trying an exercise over the next month or so. DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind I’m a project manager, not a phycologist, so the durrations may be inadequate or too much but you get the idea. Give your team directions in different ways, utilizing the three methods, and make mental or even written notes on how the team performs as a whole. Which way is the best way for your team to receive direction? Do you notice a boost in performance?

Take it a step further, talk to your team individually. You can try the same exercise as you did with the whole team, or, you can go even one more step further and actually talk to them. See if they can or will tell you how they learn best. Note: Make sure they understand that you are not trying to give them any criticism, even constructively as they might start to get nervous and shut down, or even quit. Tell them what you are doing and what it is that you are trying to accomplish. I believe they will respond positively and your productivity will increase for the simple fact you actually care about them.

The whole premise here is we sometimes think of ourselves as the absolute authority when it comes to giving or receiving directions. I assure you this type of thinking is a recipe for failure and you are setting yourself and your team up for poor performance. Go the extra mile, pay attention to your team and give them the tools they need to hit a home run!

Do you have a favorite method for delivering directions? Tell us, maybe we can learn a technique we didn’t know before.

Dealing with Risk

What is risk? Risk is defined as an exposure to the chance of injury or loss; hazard or dangerous chance.  There are probably other words to describe it, but this works pretty well.

 I recently went on a cruise to the Caribbean. There were two things instantly working against me mentally: the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean Sea and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Don’t think for a moment that my friends overlooked these two facts prior to my departure. They took every opportunity they could to rib me about it. Add to these the fact I have never been on a cruise before and this was a seven night adventure and the fact I was going to countries known for disliking Americans (Honduras and Mexico). Friends also kept telling me how sickness spreads on these ships quickly. Some might say I was taking a huge risk.

 Do you think it was risky?

Perhaps, but I say no. The reason I think it isn’t is because I practiced risk management techniques to minimize these risks or the affects. One, I did research on current vessels to ensure they are safe, looking up sailing to accident ratios. I wasn’t worried and we were not headed into iceberg infested waters. Two I familiarized myself with the ship’s layout including where life vests were located throughout the ship. I knew where to report to in an emergency and how to report one if I noticed it first. I also participated in the ship’s muster drill to find out how I was to get on the lifeboat if anything did happen. I wore a motion-sickness patch and washed my hands often to minimize other smaller risks. I also took into account that even though I was going into countries that were not necessarily great for Americans, I knew we were not going near hot-spots and would be protected fairly well. The consequences could be dire, but the likelihood was low so these were acceptable risks to take.

What does all of this mean and how does it relate to project management? Risk Management is an often overlooked part of project management. This brings me back to the definition or at least part of it: hazard or dangerous chance. Yes it is dangerous! It is dangerous to overlook such a simple process that doesn’t take much time or effort, but can save you time, money, or even your job if things go really bad. Negative things WILL happen and if you do not prepare for it, it will sink you and your project.

So how do I do it, how do I practice risk management? Follow these simple steps and at least get started. There are tons of resources available for purchase or even free in various places on the Internet. But whatever you do, don’t overlook risk management ever again. Enough with the doomsday talk, let’s get to it.

 Step 1: Brainstorm a list with your team on every negative thing you can think of that might happen. Sure, this list can be long and sometimes seem a bit trivial, but believe me, it is not. By practicing step one, you have gone beyond what most will do in this arena and it has already prepared you somewhat for what might happen simply by thinking about it.

Step 2: using a scale from 1-10 (or use whatever granularity you wish) rate how big of a deal that risk is. For example, if dealing with a paper cutter at the office, you might rate a paper cut as a 1 (no big deal). Conversely, you might rate losing a finger as a 10 (HUGE deal).

 Step 3: using the same scale as step 2, rate how likely that risk is to occur with 1 being unlikely and 10 being highly likely.

 Step 4: use some sort of math (I add the numbers together) and determine a threshold for what is acceptable and what is not. For example you can have numbers ranging from 2-20. So, you could rate any activity with a total number of 10 or under as minor risks. Likewise, you would consider anything over 11 as more severe risks needing more planning and perhaps scrutiny. Again, create your own thresholds here.

Step 5: Create your action plan. You can:

  • Accept the risk as it is, taking the chance and dealing with whatever consequences might arise (not recommended for risk totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Avoid the risk altogether, change your plan so that this risk doesn’t even come up on the radar (these are recommended for the risks with totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Mitigate the risk, how can you make the impact less on your team or project
  • Transfer the risk to another stakeholder or third party to deal with

Step 6: Train your team on the warning signs. Knowing what to look for is another critical part of minimizing the impact from a risk-turned-event. This step is often overlooked as well. Keep in mind, if you don’t train what to look for, the team might miss the risk coming to fruition.

However you decide to put together your plan, the bottom line is do it. I went on my cruise and had a wonderful time. I stuck to the plan, stayed safe, and enjoyed the great vacation with my awesome new bride. We got home safely and brought some amazing memories and photos with us.

 Remember, asking “What if” can help keep you from asking “What do I do now”!

 What do you do on your projects to prepare for risks? Comment below and tell me!

What Does it Take? A Look into Project Leadership

Project leadership and project management go hand in hand, with leadership having perhaps more soft skills than a person who “simply” manages a project by following some sort of process. I have written several posts about the difference between management and leadership so I won’t get into that topic here. I use the term leader rather than manager because I believe it takes both to be truly successful. Of course, only you can define your success but what others think of your success should play into your definition at least a little, especially your boss.

Project leadership can take on many forms and definitions; there are many widely accepted principles and disciplines to keep you up-to-date on the specific ins and outs of your area of expertise. I will not get into these specifics here. Instead, I want to get into the general skills that it takes to keep you into a project leadership role. Obviously this will not be a definitive list, but rather one that is designed to get you to thinking, “Do I have what it takes to get or keep this thing going?”

  • Have integrity: This is a personal favorite of mine because so many people do not, even some so-called leaders. Without integrity, your team will not follow you because they will not trust you.
  • Trust and empower your team members: If you do this, your team will go to the ends of the earth for you and everyone will reap the rewards.
  • Communicate Honestly: Having good communication skills are essential in any leadership position. As a project leader, you must communicate honestly so there are no surprises at the end of the day when the sponsors think everything has been going smoothly, and it hasn’t.
  • Be organized: Keep project files organized on the server (not your local computer unless it is backed up daily). Make sure all stakeholders know where the documents are that affect them.
  • Know how to create and maintain a schedule: Get your team invoved early so you can estimate your man-hours. Once you have buy-in from your team, they will be more likely to work towrards the deadlines rather than resenting it, telling you it is just too aggressive.
  • Know how to create a budget: Estimating is big! At the end of the day, you will need to make every effort to stick to your budget. You got buy-in from the team on the time estimates, so use them to create your budget and include other resources, expenses, and other capital items.
  • Understand Risk Management: Failing to understand this piece will result in failure of some sort. Know what can happen and what measures you will take to avoid it altogether or how you will react if it moves from the risk column to the event column.
  • Learn and follow processes appropriate for your industry: PMI has a set of processes that are general and widely adaptable for all projects. Learning additional skills such as Six Sigma, Agile, or ITIL (among others) is also recommended if it applies.
  • Be Adaptable: One thing I like about being a project leader is the constant changing project environment. It speaks to my A.D.D. and is a constant challenge. One thing is for sure, being a projet leader is never boring! If you are inflexible, chances are you are going to be miserable trying to be a project leader. If you are flexible, not only will you like your job better, but you will have a better chance at success as well.

I saw it written once that being a project leader is “the best job – EVER!” I agree with this and would love to mentor new PMs that are ready to go. As I said before, this post is in no way intended to have a definitive list. It is simply designed to get you thinking critically.

I’d love to hear what else you’d add to it. Please comment below and give feedback.

It Takes Grit!

I was driving to work the other day when I saw a billboard from a local energy company that said, “InteGRITy”. While the billboard was intending to relay the company’s stance on grinding it out for good energy policy, it really got me thinking about another side of that exact same sentiment.

It takes grit to have integrity.

What do I mean by that? Well, it is simple really. Integrity is not something that we should take lightly. It is an ideal that requires constant action. We should be on guard consistently in our daily lives to ensure we don’t slip and make a potentially fatal mistake. The bottom line is that it takes effort to maintain integrity. I will grant you some require more effort than others, but it is worth it.

What are you waiting for? Are you already displaying integrity? Are you the same person, even when you think nobody is looking? Keep fighting the good fight!

I know it is a short post this time, but I just wanted to throw this out there to you. Do you have additional thoughts on the subject? Please share them by commenting.

Another Look at Integrity, and a Plea

I was having an email conversation over the weekend with an ex-colleague. The conversation did not go well and I actually left it somewhat discouraged and even more determined than I was before to put some level of integrity back into the daily lives of everyone I come in contact with.

Q: What do you do when someone gives you “facts” that aren’t?

A: Dispute those “facts” with the evidence to the contrary.

Why? Well, there are several reasons to do this. One is to simply protect yourself from inaccurate facts that can come back to bite you in the future. Two is to let that person know that you are not as dumb as they apparently think you are. Three, that person needs to know that inaccurate facts and outright lies cannot and will not be tolerated.

I ask you another question……who are you in this conversation? Are you the person who is having to defend yourself from inaccurate information? Or, are you the one who is bending facts to support your argument? I hope you are not the one ignoring the truth.

The truth is a magnificent thing; it is always the truth. It does not care if you have a different point of view. It does not care if you have a different agenda. It does not care if you have a fuzzy recollection. In fact, it does not care if you were given inaccurate information which you are now repeating. The truth is always the truth.

Being truthful is a huge part of having integrity. It is actually the largest part. If you wish to be a leader, you must start by having integrity. The first step of that is to start being truthful……ALWAYS!

So, I ask you again…….which side of the coin are you on? Are you heads above the rest or simply telling tales?

I plead with you to start your journey on the path of integrity.

The truth will always be the truth, regardless if you want it to be something else. Telling tales will do nothing but damage your reputation and prolong the inevitable. I also plead with you to call out those who start and spread lies and inaccuracies.

What do you do when someone tries to bend the facts? Please comment below.

Heated Conversations: Do you Engage?

How do you, as a leader handle heated conversations in your team? Are YOU engaging?

Differing opinions are a part of our daily lives. In fact, in leadership roles, they are essential to the survival of the teams we are tasked with leading. By this, I mean that utilizing different opinions or even different world views will allow us to avoid the damaging and often destructive results of groupthink. While we might think that life is great if everyone agrees with us, it all too often means that something is about to go horribly wrong.

The problem is that differing opinions can sometimes create tense moments during a meeting or even just during an otherwise calm part of the day. Let’s face it, there are many people out there passionate about their work and about their opinions. It is our job, as leaders, to keep that passion somewhat controlled and pointed in a positive direction. If the argument gets heated, or worse, the meeting, whether formal or informal, it needs to stop right then with encouraging words that all disputes can and will be resolved amicably. It is critical that all of our team members feel safe coming to work (emotionally or physically).

In the end, it is important for teams to have differing opinions but in a controlled environment. The biggest thing I can leave you with as a leader is to not engage in such heated discussions. If you get into a strong disagreement with a team member, you either need to take it to another, closed-door room or just table the discussion for another time when you both have had a chance to calm down and reset your passions. Keep in mind that it is possible that you DON’T have the best idea, be sure to set your ego aside too.

Different opinions are essential to business. Without them, we would all wear white shirts with blue pants, regardless of gender, age, race, or nationality. All cars would be white 4-door sedans with gray interior and all houses would be white with blue trim. We don’t live in any such society, not even the ones with the harshest of homeowner restrictions. That doesn’t mean we have to box our neighbor’s ears when we want to paint our house a different color.

The most important single ingredient in the forula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” ~T. Roosevelt

What tricks have you used to stop heated debates at the office? Comment below.